On Sunday, a giant burst of plasma was ejected from the Sun and is heading right for us. The ejected material is expected to collide with the Earth’s atmosphere on August 3rd/4th potentially producing a spectacular light display – the aurora, or northern lights – even for observers at lower latitudes.
It’s not often that you get to see aurorae from the lower parts of Europe and the USA but this week may be your chance. If the weather is good for you, head outside tonight and tomorrow night and see if you can spot the moving curtains of light that are the beautiful aurorae. These displays are produced by the interaction of oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere with the ionised material streaming off the Sun.
You can read more about this recent solar storm on EurekaAlert! and Astronomy Now. Such eruptions don’t always create a light show – but just in case they do, I’d go and take a look if the skies are clear.
The storm was captured as it happened thanks to several Sun-observing spacecraft, including NASA’s new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). You can see the spectacular SDO video of the storm erupting right here or here. Thanks to @DrStuClark for the links.
This image shows an aurora over Calgary – it’s from the Aurora Wikipedia article, which is very complete if you want to read more about how these light displays are produced.